The following article, Bridges' Remember Heritage, Guests Illustrate Urban, Rural Differences, is from the Custer County Chief, Broken Bow, NE.
Mullen – Preservation of heritage and preparation for the future converge at the Double R Ranch, nestled in the Sandhills among valleys and spring-fed lakes, north of Mullen.
The Double R Ranch is owned by Jim and Pat Bridges and is located 19 miles north of Mullen on Highway 97. The Bridges’ ranch is only 24 miles south of Merritt Reservoir, 60 miles from the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge and 70 miles south of Rosebud. It is one of the few places that still receive mail only three days a week.
Jim and Pat have used the ranch’s location to prepare for the future. However, they have not forgotten their heritage. In fact, their heritage contributes to their ability to keep the ranch going and to educate others about their legacy.
Jim and Pat operate a guest ranch on their property using vacant houses that belonged to Pat’s grandparents and great-grandparents, including a three-room sod house with an attic.
“We’re losing the identity. There’s not very many ranches left that have been in the family for very long. The big are getting bigger, and the little are getting littler, and I’m going broker.”Jim Bridges
Pat’s grandparent’s, Dr. R.G. and Winnie Roth homesteaded the Double R Ranch in 1908, along with Pat’s great-uncle Edward Roth and great-grandmother Catherine Roth.
Over the years, Pat’s ancestors purchased other homesteads in the area and built up the ranch.
Her grandfather, Dr. Roth, served as the area doctor. Jim and Pat still have his old ledger books and his medicine bag, complete with supplies. Jim said according to Dr. Roth’s books, it cost $16 to deliver a baby and $1.50 to set a broken arm.
Pat added that he often took chickens or other things in trade, rather than cash. Jim said one ledger might say “Delivered baby…$16 see book two.” Then in book two an entry one year after the baby was delivered might say “Received one chicken as payment, balanced due…$14.”
“Apparently there wasn’t any interest,” Jim said.
The Roths came to Nebraska from Missouri, Pat said. Before that they had lived in Illinois.
“The first thing Grandma did was get a tree claim started,” she said. Winnie missed the trees and Missouri, and felt the vast plains were too desolate.
Doctor Roth was the first in the area to have a car and a telephone. Jim said at that time he thought doctors were higher on the priority list to get those types of things. Before getting his first car, Jim and Pat said Dr. Roth had a horse that knew the way home from every patient’s house. That allowed him to sleep on the way home.
Jim and Pat moved to the ranch in 1984 and are currently trying to restore the three-room sod house Pat’s grandparents built in 1908. They are also working on her great-uncle Edward’s house, which was built a few years later.
Pat’s great-uncle’s house used to be across a spring-fed lake from where Jim and Pat’s house is located. They moved it to its current site, across from the sod house.
Uncle Ed’s house is used as part of the guest ranch. However, this “cabin” doesn’t have cooking facilities.
“This is a work in process,” Pat said.
Jim and Pat had been renting out Uncle Edward’s house, as well as a bunkhouse that used to sit on the compound, for several years on a limited basis. They said it’s really only been in the last couple of years that they got serious about starting a guest ranch.
“Tourism is one of the only things left for ranchers without destroying the land. You get some traffic, but it’s good traffic.” --Pat Bridges
The main cabin at the Double R Ranch guest compound sits between the sod house and Uncle Ed’s house. It was built last summer.
Pat said they hadn’t intended to build a new cabin. They had just remodeled the bunkhouse when it was struck by lightening last April and burned to the ground. Pat said there was probably between $35,000-40,000 worth of property inside that was lost. However, she added, they feel lucky that the fire didn’t take anything else with it.
“We feel like we’re pretty well blessed,” Pat said.
The lightening strike gave them the opportunity to build the main cabin. Pat said that was when they really got into making the guest ranch work and came up with a business plan. She said they probably need another three years to reach their goals.
Contractors from Valentine began the new cabin in June and finished it by mid-July.
“We had a lot of input,” Pat said. “It started out as a box and it ended up beautiful.”
What really makes the cabin, Pat said, is the wrap-around balcony. It was a suggestion by the contractors.
Sleeping quarters are on the first floor of the cabin, with the living quarters on the second. There is a separate bath and shower house off to the side of the cabin.
The cabins are set away from the house, which Pat said makes it nice for them because the traffic isn’t right in their yard. She feels it’s also nice for the visitors because no one is going to bother them on their vacation. The only time anyone is at the cabins is when Jim goes to do chores.
“Most people come to get away,” Pat said. Their guests have come from several states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado and eastern Nebraska.
Jim and Pat said everyone seems to love it there, especially the kids.
“It’s a kid haven,” Pat said.
Jim tells the story of a young girl who came to visit the ranch with her family. She knew how to ride horses and became attached to one of Jim’s horses.
When it was time for her family to leave, she told her father she thought she was far enough ahead of her classmates at school that she could skip a few weeks and stay to help Jim take care of his horse. Jim said she told her father he could come get her at Christmas.
Meeting people from all over is an interesting aspect of running the guest ranch Jim and Pat said. They said you really notice differences between how urban and rural people think.
Several guests have told Jim and Pat that the sky is bigger out here. It’s not, Jim says, it’s just that we can see more of it because there’s no smog or skyscrapers. Another comment that’s quite common is that it is too quiet. People from cities are so used to the noise they can’t sleep the first night, Pat said.
“All you can hear is your breathing,” Jim added.
Jim recalls one story that illustrates how different city and country people are. He was driving down the road one day and saw a vehicle stopped on the side. Naturally, he said, he pulled over to see if they were okay or needed help.
The occupants of the vehicle were fine, but they were wondering if Jim knew of any place they could rent horses to ride. Jim said he had horses they could ride, but he didn’t want any money for it.
The people rode for about one hour, and when they were through they tried to pay Jim for letting them ride his horses. Jim insisted that he didn’t want their money, while they insisted he take it, holding out a rolled up bill.
Jim said they kept telling him where they were from they pay to ride and they would do the same here. Jim thought the rolled up bill was a 10, but he didn’t want even that and kept refusing. Finally, the people got in their vehicle to leave. As they were driving away, the man tossed the rolled up bill out of the window. Jim went over to pick it up.
“Here it was a $100 bill.”
There are a variety of things to do at the Double R Ranch during a stay. The ranch is centrally located between several spots that offer activities. In addition to the Merritt Reservoir, Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge and the Rosebud Casino, the ranch is 35 miles north of the Sand Hills Golf Club, a world-class golf course, says Pat. She’s worked there in the summer for the last six years.
There are also several spring-fed lakes within a 25 miles radius of the Double R.
Jim and Pat said they get a lot of ice fishers in the winter, and snowmobiling, ice skating and sledding are all allowed.
The lakes also offer an opportunity to fish for perch or pike in the spring. With Merritt Reservoir so close, Pat said, the guests can also head up there or even fly fish on the Snake River and see Snake River Falls.
Hunters have a variety of game to choose from, including grouse, ducks, geese and deer in season. A gun fee is charged by the day, but guide service is also available.
Jim said many of their deer hunters have been visiting the ranch each year for 15 years. Some of them return in the spring to help around the ranch as payment.
“One year they set 600 posts,” Jim said.
There are plenty of photography opportunities for visitors, including wildflowers, ducks, pelicans, wild turkey and grouse.
The Double R is also a working ranch and that offers another photo opportunity, as well as a chance to see branding, calving, haying and roundup in season.
Guests at the ranch can get their exercise by hiking the hills and valleys or reserving a canoe trip down the Middle Loup and Dismal Rivers.
Jim and Pat will also provide pasture, feed and shelter for horses if guests wish to bring them. Their boarding rates are available by the day, week or month.
It addition to the sod house and Pat’s great-uncle’s house, there is another historical attraction at the Double R. Jim and Pat have restored and preserved a one-room schoolhouse.
The schoolhouse was built in 1908 or 1910 and is the original school that sat on the Double R at the beginning of the century. However, it had been moved to the north over the years as there were fewer kids.
Jim was interested in restoring an old schoolhouse and found out who had the old District 66 school.
The people that had the school agreed to sell it to Pat’s aunt, Elsie Roth, for $1 as long as it would be preserved. Elsie, a former county superintendent in Valentine, attended and taught at the school. Pat said Elsie was 15 years old when she first began teaching at the school.
The school still contains everything that was in it years ago. That includes a piano that was made in 1886. Pat still gives area children piano lessons on it in the winter. Jim said the man who tunes it for them says it’s the easiest one he’s ever done.
Jim and Pat did add bookshelves along all of the walls. Pat said most of the books that are now in the school are hers, her mother’s and her aunt Elsie’s. There are a few that belonged to the District 66 school.
“They bring school kids out (to see the school),” Pat said. It allows the children to see what it was like in the early 1900s.
Jim added that it illustrates another difference between urban and rural people.
“People from the east have never seen a one-room schoolhouse,” he said. They can’t believe students could actually fit in one room and learn. On the flip side, Jim said, he went to a one-room schoolhouse. When he started high school in Broken Bow with a lot of kids around him it was disorienting.
Preserving and sharing their heritage is allowing Jim and Pat to plan for the future.
“We love the place and love to share it with people,” Pat said.”